Straight away, you know Casino Royale is not comic book Bond. Grainy black and white, shadowy figures at shadowy purposes in shadowy offices. Bond makes his bones. Then, more bones.
The opening titles: Generally, I'm against dudes singing over the titles, although the third best Bond theme song (Live and Let Die) is sung by a dude. Not a bad tune, and not enough to spoil the afterglow of that great opening sequence. Also: there are no somersaulting silhouettes of naked women during the titles, in fact no women at all. I can certainly understand wanting to move the films away from the misogyny of the 60s and 70s (and, okay, 80s...and sort of the 90s, too) Bond films, but dammit Maurice Binder's title sequences are art, man!
The lack of women swinging on the barrels of guns was a tip to what was coming. The filmmakers very overtly made Bond the object of examination throughout the movie. Rather than wolfishly ogling women, this Bond is ogled by everyone else. He gets caught on camera invading an embassy, causing a scandal. He emerges from the surf in clear reference to Ursula Andress's iconic entrance in Dr. No, after which he is checked out by a couple of ladies on the beach. References are made to his "perfect ass" and his "keeping fit." He plays poker, a game in which constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your opponent's appearance and behaviour is central. And, obviously, Bond's performance as a new double-O is being appraised by M and MI6 just as Daniel Craig's performance is being appraised by the audience. Appropriately, the film ends with Bond sniping his enemy: Now Bond is the one doing the watching. Ba-nah-BANAHH-ba-na-nahhhh!
Also, if you haven't heard, Bond is brutally sexually violated in the film. I dearly hope never to have to find out how long it takes one to recover from getting one's testicles repeatedly meteor-hammered, but I'm going to guess that one wouldn't be up and at it within a few days, as it seemed Bond was.
The gambling: They changed Baccarat into No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em, which I suppose is not unrealistic, considering how popular Hold 'Em has become in European casinos, but I thought it unnecessary. It never really bothered me that I didn't know the exact rules to Baccarat, as I was able to follow the gambling just fine. (Having Giancarlo Giannini off to the side explaining the game to Vesper/the audience was annoying.) And "Baccarat" just sounds cooler than "No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em." Hold 'Em is a game I play on Saturday nights with my buddies. Baccarat is played in exotic locations by people wearing clothes that cost as much as my education.
The action sequences were great. The chase through the construction site was a triumph of design and editing, though the fact that Bond's quarry seemed to be some sort of simian-mutant-acrobat really pushed my suspension-of-disbelief envelope. Did it break? No.
Jeffrey Wright was so perfect for Felix Lighter that it took me a few minutes to realize, oh yeah, hey, that's Jeffrey Wright as Felix Lighter. Hope he sticks around.
The romantic dialogue was pretty bad, at times very bad, but I suppose this is part of Bond becoming Bond. He hasn't quite developed the Bond persona, he's still putting on his idea of a swinging sophisticate, still trying to weave snatches of romantic dialogue into the suave veneer that will enable him to effortlessly seduce women, still trying to achieve the level of near-sociopathic detachment that will enable him to casually dispose of them. I won't be disappointed if the sequels don't go this latter route, but I can see the argument for it being essential to the character. The story stresses that Bond still suffers from some measure of empathy, which I guess the end of the movie represents his having overcome with the blessed arrival of Monty Norman's theme, which had until then only been hinted at in the score.
Though Casino Royale 2006 brings the character back closer to his roots in the spy genre, the influence of Indiana Jones, which is what turned the films from near-parodies in the late-70s to outright actioners in the 80s and 90s, is obviously still there. Bond takes a huge licking and keeps on ticking, although the fact that he's back at the poker table moments afterward, cuts cleaned, tie perfectly tied, wearing a shirt even whiter than the one previous, instead of falling asleep under some train tracks or in an opium den, is what makes him Bond. Keeping up appearances, you know. Making the scene. Got it. It's not that I don't like action movies, I do and I consider them as artistically legitimate as any other film genre, let's just say that I like my Bond sneaking into secret facilities and garroting people more than I like him being dragged behind trucks.
Bottom line: A great time at the movies, and a very strong entry in the series, probably among my top 5 Bond films. That's pretty impressive, considering this movie had no Q. (Since it's a reboot, how about Brian Cox? Ian Holm?)